CLEVELAND, Miss. (AP) - Long before dUg Pinnick became one of the music industry’s most coveted bass players and a founding member of the acclaimed progressive metal band King’s X, his musical foundation was shaped by the music of the Mississippi Delta.
Born in Illinois in 1950, the descendant of family who moved north from Mississippi during the Great Migration, Pinnick grew up with aunts and uncles spinning records from the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf from nearby Chess Records.
Getting back to those blues roots was the impetus behind Pinnick’s side project Grinder Blues, which debuted in 2014 alongside Emmy-award winning sessionists Jabo (guitar) and Scot Bihlman (drums). After 2014’s album debuted on Billboard’s blues charts to critical success, Pinnick was approached with a unique opportunity for recording the group’s follow-up effort.
The first album’s producer, Miles Fulwider, now an instructor at Delta State’s Delta Music Institute for entertainment studies, offered to record the group’s new album alongside his students in a recently renovated studio space that program officials refer to as “The Abbey Road of the South.”
“They’ve all been inspired in their career by blues and rock and roll, and this is where it started,” Fulwider said. “It made sense that we should really find an environment and location that focused on the overall genesis of all of it.”
The DMI allows its students to record and produce music at any time of the day in one of three studios. The crown jewel is Studio A, a converted basketball gymnasium. The cavernous room is larger than the Studio Two room in London made famous by the Beatles. It offers a unique recording experience because of the size of the room and its proximity to blues history. Officials are hoping Grinder Blues’ experience is only the first of many “destination” recording efforts at the program’s facility.
DMI director Tricia Walker said she was inspired to search for professional clients following a visit from Thelonious Monk Jr., who toured the facility and said it would be the perfect place for his musicians to focus on their craft, “away from distractions.” A recent upgrade in Studio A brought in a state-of-the-art SS Duality console, which allows engineers to record both in analog and digital formats.
“We felt like we were amply supplied with everything they needed. You lay the Delta (history) on top of that, and it is a winning proposition (for artists),” Walker said. “It’s kind of the same thing Muscles Shoals had going on. The Rolling Stones recorded in Muscle Shoals because it was in the middle of nowhere.”
Pinnick described the decision to record in Cleveland as a “no-brainer,” and said the trip will continue to shape his outlook on life. Before coming to Mississippi, Pinnick traced his family line to the Bates name, founders of Batesville, the town an hour from Cleveland straddling the Delta and Hill Country, now home to football powerhouse South Panola. Pinnick also said his grandmother was born on the Choctaw Reservation in Neshoba County.
“It kind of shocked me, looking at everything, knowing that this is where my family comes from,” Pinnick said. “All of the sudden my brain is going crazy because I’d get reminded of these stories my family would tell me and that was interesting.”
The band arrived in Cleveland Oct. 5. After a show at local venue Hey Joe’s, only the fifth performance together, members hit the studio on Wednesday. Fulwider said the room is big enough to accommodate a 100-person choir and full orchestra.
“(Recording studio) rooms this big don’t exist anymore,” Fulwider said. “If you want big drum sounds, record it in a big room. We make use of a lot of ambient microphone techniques that really cause things to sound big, open and very natural.”
The five-day session received a punch of inspiration when Pinnick, working on album lyrics, took a trip to historic Dockery Farms Plantation, whose residents included Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf.
“You can go to Nashville, you can go anywhere, but coming here and going to Dockery and hearing the real stories, going to real crossroads, the whole thing is pretty amazing,” said Pinnick.
Pinnick said he was inspired by another blues power trio, ZZ Top, in coming up with the aesthetic for Grinder Blues. Recording in a drop-C tuning, Pinnick allows the band to create a “twisted” blues sound, similar to what ZZ Top achieved with its album, “Tres Hombres.”
“They had that knack to write a blues song that wasn’t common, but it sounded common. It was a big inspiration to me,” Pinnick said.
After finishing the initial tracks, the group will still need another session to put a final stamp on the album.
“We think it is going to be a better record (than the first). The sounds, the songs, everything was firing on all cylinders,” Fulwider said.
The opportunity for students to work alongside professional musicians during the recording process is one that both Walker and Fulwider said is not only a good program recruiting tool but an eye-opener.
“(The students got) to see disagreements in the studio because it is a creative process. How do you navigate that? It was as real as it could get,” Fulwider said.
Walker said the school will advertise its services in a few industry trade magazines but primarily will rely on word of mouth. And Pinnick will be spreading the word.
“It is already a state-of-the-art studio, but it is going to be something people will have to recon with once Miles gets it to where he wants it. It is a great place for kids to learn, and a great place for a music college.”
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com
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